Three charged with massive unemployment fraud scam, filing claims for nearly $900,000

PITTSBURGH — Three Pittsburgh residents conspired to provide false information on Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) applications and fraudulently submit PUA claims on behalf of at least 90 people, according to the state Attorney General.

“These defendants took advantage of a program meant for everyday people whose lives were uprooted by COVID-19 to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from all of us,” said Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “We are working overtime to track down people who undermine the public by breaking the law and committing fraud.”

Linda Slade, 51, Dr. Rochelle Oaks, 66, and Keith Brown, 53, were each charged with operating a scheme to apply for PUA funding. Slade and Oaks submitted applications for interested participants, while Brown collected fees from the participants to pay Oaks, Shapiro said.

Slade and Oaks worked together, but each had unique, separate lists of contacts for whom they filed. Slade individually recruited and charged a fee to individuals she contacted through friends and family. She prepared 61 applications, totaling $925,273 in PUA funds.

Oaks worked with other individuals to recruit and charge applicants for her services. When Oaks finished completing applications, she met with a co-conspirator to be paid a fee for each application that had successfully received PUA payments. Oaks prepared 31 applications, totaling $249,227 in PUA funds.

Out of these 92 total applications, investigators have determined that 65 of the stated recipients are ineligible to have received benefits. The total amount of benefits paid out on these 65 ineligible applications is $884,715.

Oaks told investigators that during the period in which she filled out PUA applications, she would meet with Brown to collect her payment for submitting these applications. Oaks would meet Brown in his car, and he would hand her cash that he had collected from applicants. Oaks told investigators that she met with Brown approximately 12 times.

To date, the Office of Attorney General has charged 31 people, including 24 inmates and their accomplices, across the state for submitting fraudulent PUA applications amounting to more than $3.1 million in illegally obtained PUA funds.

Individuals who apply for emergency unemployment benefits when they are employed or incarcerated are breaking federal and state law. Individuals found to be involved with organized efforts to obtain emergency unemployment benefits illegally can face significant prison time and financial penalties.

Slade, Oaks and Brown are each charged with two counts of corrupt organizations, one count of theft by deception, one count of theft by unlawful taking, one count of criminal conspiracy, and one count of tampering with records.